Very broadly speaking, I am interested in questions of power, culture and resistance. My published work so far has focussed on the social and cultural history of the book, and the making of indigenous identity in colonial Bengal.In my monograph, Power in Print (OUP, 2006) I study this in the context of the printing industry and shaping of literary tastes in Bengal. Contrary to the dominant academic belief that flourishing 'high' literatures succeeded in wiping out ephemeral and cheap prints in nineteenth century Bengal, I demonstrate that the latter survived with much strength and vitality. Such an argument also helps reopen some fundamental debates on the social structure of literacy and the Bengali bhadralok intelligentsia. It offers a reassessment of groups previously thought to inhabit the peripheries of literate society by highlighting the primacy of orality and specific reading practices in an Indian context, among others. The work is thus also a conscious intervention in the standard Eurocentric historiography on the book and reading cultures.
In extending my study on resistance, I have been also drawn into the realm of women's experience in colonial South Asia. In Behind the Veil (Permanent Black/Palgrave, 2007/2008) together with others, I have tried to unearth a narrative of deeper and perhaps more enduring subterranean resistance offered by women in their daily lives. A lot of evidence exists to support such a proposal, some from unconventional sources such as women's songs, photographs and embroidery, but also from legal records, memoirs and other printed/published works. But this work is as much about power, as it is about women. The volume, inspired by both subaltern and gender studies, tries to highlight the complex ways in which power operates in oppressive structures, that makes any simple valorisation - and for that matter, theorisation - of such 'resistance' quite impossible.
In my most recent work, funded by a major grant from the British Academy, I examined the city of Calcutta in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, analysing its material cultures and social structures in the context of colonialism, technology, changing patterns of occupation and public spaces, crime, scandals and protest. The resulting monograph, Claiming the City: Protest, Crime and Violence in Colonial Calcutta, was published by Oxford University Press in 2016.
My next monograph project ‘By bomb and song: Revolutionaries, violence and popular patriotism in British India, 1900-1940’ explores the dynamics behind the popular appeal of extremists in India in the first half of the twentieth century, studying regimes of both violence and the cultural productions associated with the cult – songs, performance and pamphlets - available in the popular cultural realm.